The RACER Mailbag, August 17


Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of RACER’s writers can be sent to Due to the high volume of questions received, we can’t guarantee that every letter will be published, but we’ll answer as many as we can. Published questions may be edited for length and clarity. Questions received after 3pm ET each Monday will appear the following week. Q: For me, the bombshell at the end of the Nashville race was Dixon saying he did 45 or 50 laps on the tires and didn’t take any on his last stop. I completely missed that and, apparently, so did the guys in the NBC booth and their pit reporters. (Not complaining, there was a lot to keep track of in the chaos and, at the time of that stop, we weren’t really focused on Dixon.) Any intel on why he didn’t take tires? Was it collateral damage from his incident that made it hard to change tires? Tom Hinshaw, Santa Barbara MARSHALL PRUETT: Well, if I was less of an idiot, Tom, I would have asked Dixie when we spoke for about 20 minutes on Friday. He opened the race on a set of new primaries, pitted during the lap 22-24 caution to complete his mandatory laps on alternates, ran on those until lap 26, pitted and replaced those with another set of new primaries, and yes, from there, he completed the race on that set. The only caveat is with all the cautions from lap 28 to the checkered flag on lap 80, there were just 25 laps of green, so the tires weren’t being asked to do all 52 laps at maximum attack. Q: During the Nashville telecast, Kevin Lee said that McLaren was trying to be the first team since 2003 or 2004 not in the Big 3 to win three races in a season. FYI, Newman-Haas and Forsythe Racing both did this in the timeframe mentioned. Thanks for the chance to correct – I think it’s important to remember some of our great teams of the past. Bob in Detroit MP: I hear you, Bob, but in CART/Champ Car, Newman/Haas and Forsythe were in the Big 3. I’d probably look to Ed Carpenter Racing in 2015 when Mike Conway won two and Ed won one, giving ECR three in a season as a non-Big 3 entrant. Q: Has any other Penske driver ever behaved in a public forum like Josef Newgarden has in the last few weeks on Twitter and in the interview after the Nashville race? From the ‘Joseph’ tweet to replying numerous times to small accounts after the race it seems very odd, especially from a Penske driver. It is usually very corporate and buttoned-down. Steve Mattiko MP: Well, we had Will Power and the famous double-bird scenario after Loudon. We had Helio going nuclear and wanting to attack Brian Barnhart at Edmonton, but got former IndyCar head of security Charles Burns instead. We got Power in June at Road America where it took me three tries to get a response on the DeFrancesco incident that wouldn’t get him suspended, so those are all from the last decade or so. I’ve got to admit, I’m somewhat surprised by how much Josefppphhhppffff has ticked people off with his ‘Get my name right’ tweet at Ferrucci and clapping back at one Twitter person who referred to him as ‘white meat’ and his salty response on the NBC broadcast to the Grosjean incident. Honestly, these are about as low-key as it gets. On the scale of 0-10 of ‘getting a call from R.P. telling him to cool down,’ Newgarden’s at a -10. I’m not here to defend Newgarden, but jeez, the guy acts human a couple of times and he gets hammered for it. Doesn’t make sense to me. Q: Ever since taking off with some basketball player in the two-seater just before the start of the Indy Grand Prix last May, Mario Andretti has been conspicuous in his absence from races. The two-seater he usually drove before each race is not seen or talked about. What happened? While I am at it, I also wonder what happened to the cars that I always enjoyed seeing at the IMS Museum, and also what happened to the Hulman home that stood outside the stands near turn two at IMS? I never read or heard anything about it being torn down, but a grassy lawn now occupies that historic structure’s former place at the track. I was told by an employee, who would know, that Tony Hulman used the house when he visited the track back in the early days of his years there. I know his daughter used it every year on race weekends for private events involving her charities. So, have you any ideas about these oddities? I would greatly appreciate enlightenment. William Grimes MP: I swear I saw Mario once or twice at July races, so I don’t know if that’s a thing. Without knowing what cars you enjoyed at the museum, there’s no way to answer that question. The person at IMS who would help with the Hulman home is on vacation, so that’s one to send back in for a future edition. Q: There two major controversies in the realm of motorsports: Palou-Ganassi-McLaren, and Piastri-Alpine-McLaren. The common thread here is McLaren, and more specifically, Zak Brown. I would think that this less the positive media attention is something that the McLaren board would like to avoid. What do you think the chances are that the McLaren board would turn on Zak Brown? Don Hopings, Cathedral City, CA MP: I think the chances are slim to none. Zak is McLaren’s Golden Goose. He’s brought them more sponsors than they’ve had in a decade, so there’s almost nothing he could do that would lead the board to sending out the door. I did wonder, though, about what would happen if Zak was no longer an F1 CEO. Let’s say an auto manufacturer takes a majority stake in McLaren and installs a leader of its own. Take all the teams like Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari, Aston Martin, etc., that don’t need a rainmaker CEO, and would Zak get the nod over a veteran team principal? Q: In defense of Nashville, the majority of the yellows were caused by the guys who you would expect to be causing yellows: * Dalton Kellett, who got to be up around the big boys, fell about 10 spots in two laps and then decided to slam it back in there against a potential race-winner to the predicted result. * Devlin DeFrancesco, no surprise with how many people he’s drilled this year. * Jimmie Johnson, who has improved but really struggles on road/street courses. * Kyle Kirkwood, who is at least fast but wrecks pretty much every race. Add in that the large wreck may have been indirectly caused by Johnson being up front and stacking everyone up, another wreck caused by Graham Rahal out there in a damaged car and another by Helio Castroneves who is pretty much a backmarker at this point, and the vast majority of the issues were due to guys that generally run around at the back, amplified by driving on a very tough racetrack. As to my question: Relatively minor hits either broke or severely damaged the gearboxes of three championship contenders. Can you explain what is getting damaged there, how ‘emergency mode’ could still work, and if there’s anything they can do to prevent this either with the current car or on a new car whenever it happens? Tim W, Madison, WI MP: We can certainly point to certain characters being at fault for a lot of contact, but since most or all will be back next year, and in the years to come, I’m not sure if any of the who-caused-it stuff matters since the same drivers will be in the mix when we return. The hits to the back and sides of the gearboxes did one of a few things: The gear position potentiometer was smashed or damaged, and with that, the shifting system lacked key information on what gear was selected. We also had a hit or two — Pato O’Ward being a prime example — where the shifting actuator on the left rear of the gearbox got mangled, and from there, the GCU and pneumatic shifting mechanism could not shift. Teams often make an effort to protect the gear pots and actuator with shrouds, but hard hits will smash those critical bits. We have a new gearbox coming for the cars in 2024, and while I could be wrong, I haven’t heard anything to suggest the locations of both have changed.